In God's House (Part I): An Early Look at a New Documentary in American Religion

Today's guest post comes from Barton Price. Barton is the Director of the Centers for Academic Success and Achievement at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne (IPFW). Earlier this month, he attended the American Society of Church History's spring meeting where he had a chance to watch an early screening of In God's House: The Religious Landscape of Utica, NY, a documentary directed by Robert Knight and produced by S. Brent Rodriguez-Plate. Here he shares his experience. Later this week we will get a behind the scenes look from Brent Plate.

Barton Price

In God’s House tells the story of Utica, New York, a town in the Burned-Over District smoldering along the Rust Belt and reignited by ethnic and religious pluralism in the past two decades. The city and the surrounding county has become home to a number of refugees from Myanmar and Bosnia, adding to the religious diversity of the area. Along with these social veneers come new layers usage for religious spaces. For example, a United Methodist church building near city hall has become the Bosnian Islamic Center and a former Episcopal church building now houses a Vietnamese Buddhist congregation. Burmese people attend either the Bosnian mosque, the Buddhist temple, or an American Baptist church, depending on their religious identification. Meanwhile, Reformed and Conservative Jewish congregations share one building while declining to merge. The former Conservative synagogue is now a rehabilitation and nursing center.

Jummah prayer at the Bosnian Islamic Association of
Utica mosque (former Central Methodist church).
Photo by Robert Knight
The filmmakers were intrigued by the usage and reappropriations of physical spaces for new worship purposes, and this theme is the bulk of the film’s narrative. They juxtapose photographs of a building’s original usage with video of its new uses. At times, the new residents reoriented space within the building. For example, Muslims in the former Methodist church installed carpet whose lines are diagonal from the floorplan in order to orient congregants toward Mecca during prayers. Buddhists placed the altar to their bodhisattva near the center of the former Episcopal sanctuary. Viewers may find equally fascinating and subtly expressed how new residents repurpose other material objects. The Buddhists kept some of the pews for children to sit and observe their parents or grandparents chant prayers. The wooden boards in both the Methodist and Episcopal sanctuaries that once displayed hymn numbers now hold religious imagery for the respective Muslim and Buddhist congregations.

Spirits Rejoice! (Part II): A Follow Up on Jazz and American Religion

Today's post is a follow up to Jason Bivins' post yesterday. Jason has recently published Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion with Oxford University Press. In this post, he considers the historiography of music and American religion as well as his hopes for this book. As with the first post, readers are welcome to take advantage of the book's listening guide while they read this post.

Jason Bivins

It’s long since time that Religious Studies took this music more seriously. Whereas Jazz Studies has developed quickly and impressively in the last two decades – ranging from vibrant theorization from folks like Ajay Heble and Josh Kun to splendid social history from authors like George Lipsitz and Scott Saul – very few authors indeed (the most notable attention coming from David Stowe) have attended to the religious creativity that has been so powerful a part of “jazz” since “the jass” was first decried as libidinous threat a century ago in New Orleans.

My hopes for this book, then, were first to establish the seriousness of jazz as a subject of reflection and analysis in Religious Studies (and also to deepen the engagement with “religion” and “spirituality” one encounters in Jazz Studies). Beyond standard approaches to music as a kind of setting for texts, the book explores a series of themes, pursuits, reoccurring foci, and interpretations harvested from the religious and cultural history of American jazz: not just jazz’s relation to specific religious traditions as groundings for musical creativity, but the music’s own chronicling of American history and religion, jazz communitarian experiments, expressions of jazz as a practice of ritual or healing, jazz notions of mysticism or meditative egolessness, and jazz cosmologies and metaphysics. I conclude by exploring how “the sound of spirits rejoicing” challenges not only prevailing understandings of race and music (framed substantially by what Anthony Braxton calls the “reality of the sweating brow”) but understandings of what we know about “religion” too, with both categories pressing against category, against the limits of language and knowability.

Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion (Part I)

Today's guest post comes from Jason C. Bivins, Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at North Carolina State University.  In this post, Jason provides a fascinating context for his new book, Spirits Rejoice!: Jazz and American Religion. In a follow-up post, Jason will discuss the book and its contribution to the study of religion in America. Readers following the blog closely may recall that Jason first mentioned this project in Randall Stephens' "Four Questions with Jason Bivins" last year. His book--and this post--comes with a listening guide. Hit play here and listen while you read.

Jason C. Bivins

I have written a fair bit over the last several years about the unspoken, unwritten conventions shaping the study of religions. Some of the conventions I’ve identified include the increasingly habitual impulse of authors to situate themselves at the heart of their narratives. This is usually done for old-school ethnographic reasons: we want to signal to readers that we know we are active in the process of representation, that we are having an effect on what we observe and write about. But most of us in the study of religion are in this quirky, ill-defined field – rather than, in my case, for example, political theory – because of things intimate to our biography. And we almost never talk about these things. Indeed, the dirty little secret of the field is hushed up. I wish this were not the case.

So because I years ago promised Paul Harvey I would contribute something to the blog that I have so enjoyed, and so frequently learned from, and because I have written a book on something dear to my heart (as well as an additional book on things that vex my heart – my third book on political religions, which I blogged about here a couple years back), I thought I would wax biographical to begin describing what I hope are the accomplishments of my new book, Spirits Rejoice! Jazz and American Religion.

I can’t count the number of hours of my life I’ve spent in cramped places with music. I have played it in a wide variety of venues public and private, spent nearly two decades writing about it as a record reviewer, and since 1994 writing and presenting occasionally (always under the book’s title, regardless of content) in the academy. In all this time, as I wrote about other subjects, my suspicion was always that other authors would likely beat me to the punch in writing about how central religions have been to the ongoing stories of jazz, and how jazz figured prominently in American religions (though few seem to acknowledge this). These varied experiences, however, continued and I was reminded repeatedly of the frustrations of trying to describe a music that not only lacks lyrical content but also evades form. And I know too well the frustrations of trying to communicate through this music – which most of us committed to it understand to be far more than mere entertainment, and instead as possibly a self-conscious way of recalibrating perceptions and even, sometimes, a different way of being in the world – that is marginalized.

Religious Freedom And U.S. Foreign Policy Roundtable

Lauren Turek

Recent footage from the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS) showing the brutal executions of imprisoned Ethiopian and Egyptian Christians in Libya has reignited calls to the U.S. government to take action to protect religious minorities abroad. Among those who have urged Congress and President Obama to act, retired congressman Frank Wolf has been particularly vocal on the need to use the levers of American foreign policy to defend religious freedom throughout the world. Wolf took a leading role in passing international religious freedom legislation in the late 1990s. Though the bill he introduced with Senator Arlen Specter in 1997 failed, in part due to concerns that it prioritized Christians over other persecuted religious groups, he rallied to support a compromise bill that Congressman Don Nickles and Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced in 1998. That legislation passed, and President Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) into law on October 27, 1998. The IRFA established the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department as well as an independent Commission on International Religious Freedom and a special advisor to the National Security Council. Representative Christoper Smith, who has long served on the House Foreign Affairs committee and lent strong support to the Wolf-Specter and IRFA bills in the late 1990s, recently introduced the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 2015 to update the 1998 IRFA; Smith referenced ISIL’s attacks on Christians in Libya as a motivating factor in his decision to introduce this legislation.

Last month, the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis hosted an interdisciplinary roundtable discussion on international religious freedom and U.S. foreign policy, which reflected on the efficacy of the 1998 IRFA and how incorporating protections for religious freedom into the matrix of foreign policy making has shaped the way that the United States engages with other states. The panel, "Religious Freedom And U.S. Foreign Policy: A Conversation On History, Theory, And Practice," brought together three scholars of history, politics, and international law: Dr. William Inboden, the Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin (who, among many other things, previously worked at the Department of State as a Member of the Policy Planning Staff and as a Special Advisor in the Office of International Religious Freedom) and author of Religion and American Foreign Policy, 1945-1960: The Soul of Containment; Dr. Elizabeth Hurd, Associate Professor of Political Science with a courtesy appointment in Religious Studies at Northwestern University, and author of Beyond Religious Freedom: The New Global Politics of Religion; and Professor Leila Sadat, an internationally recognized human rights expert specializing in international criminal law and justice who is the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law at Washington University School of Law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute and Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity at the International Criminal Court. Professor Sadat also served on the U. S. Commission for International Religious Freedom from 2001-2003.

Four Questions with Chris Beneke

Randall Stephens

Chris Beneke is an associate professor of history at Bentley University in Waltham, MA. He completed his PhD at Northwestern University in 2001 and since then has written numerous essays, articles, and books on colonial religion, toleration, and intellectual history. His first book was Beyond
Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism (Oxford, 2006).  Since then he has edited, with Christopher S. Grenda, The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America (UPenn, 2011); with Christopher S. Grenda and David Nash, Profane: Sacrilegious Expression in a Multicultural Age (University of California, 2014); and with Christopher S. Grenda, The Lively Experiment: Religious Toleration in America from Roger Williams to the Present (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015). More recently he has been working on the First Amendment's religious clauses (his Free Exercise is forthcoming with Cornell University Press, exp. 2016).  In addition to that Chris has also written for The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Huffington Post, and The Christian Century.

Randall Stephens: When and why did you decide to study American religion?

Chris Beneke: When I began graduate school, I thought I’d be studying political history, or the history of political thought. That plan didn’t survive my first semester. I got hooked on religious history while reading Perry Miller and Edmund Morgan. At some point during that same year, it occurred to me that many of the most illuminating questions about politics and social life in eighteenth-century America had been raised by people whose answers were often religious. I then a wrote an undistinguished master’s thesis on an obscure eighteenth-century clergymen. It was not auspicious, but it was a start.

I should confess that I don’t actually call myself a religious historian. During graduate school, I described what I did as intellectual history. I don’t do that anymore—it takes too much explaining. It also sounds pretentious. But I’m not exactly a religious historian either. I usually describe myself as a historian. If pressed, I say that I study religious toleration. That usually brings the conversation to an amicable close.

Job Announcement: VAP in American Religion @ University of Wyoming

The Religious Studies department at the University of Wyoming announces a one-year position in American religions at the rank of Visiting Assistant Professor or instructor, beginning in August 2015.  Responsibilities include five undergraduate-level courses over the academic year, with at least one of these taught online.

Required qualifications: Ph.D. in Religious Studies or related discipline, or evidence of imminent completion of the degree; demonstrated expertise in American religions.

Preferred qualifications: Specialization in religion in the American West; ample experience in undergraduate teaching.

To apply: Submit a cover letter and CV, as email attachments to:  Please include names and contact information for three recommenders in cover letter.

Review of applications begins May 5, 2015, and will continue until the position is filled.

Direct any inquiries regarding this position to Quincy D. Newell,

The full job ad can be found here.

The University of Wyoming is an Equal Employment Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.  All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or protected veteran status or any other characteristic protected by law and University policy.  Please see

We conduct background investigations for all final candidates being considered for employment. Offers of employment are contingent upon the completion of the background check.

Sex in the Pacific

Charles McCrary 

This post is the third installment in a series on the Pacific. For previous entries, see parts 1, 2a, and 2b.

The first post in this series ended with a question: What models, topics, and themes might we use to study the Pacific and to incorporate Pacific history into American religious history? Global history is often best told by following one theme—an idea, group, commodity, even an individual—in order to trace the networks of people, things, and capital that create world history. Sidney Mintz’s seminal Sweetness and Power has been a model for food studies and global histories, with its dynamic ability to focus on vast trade networks, labor, and capital, as well as the cultural changes (such as how the British eat dessert) driving and driven by global capitalism. Many others have studied foods in this way: Mark Kurlanksy’s popular histories of cod and salt, as well as forthcoming work from Augustine Sedgewick on coffee and Hi'ilei Hobart on ice. Scholars have studied other commodities and their networks. Gregory Cushman’s Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World, which won last year’s inaugural Jerry Bentley Prize, awarded by the AHA to the best book “dealing with global or world-scale history,” is an outstanding, wide-ranging book that incorporates many subfields and topics (including religious/missions history) while telling its detailed stories. It’s one of the best books I read last year; you should read it. See also Sven Beckert's Empire of Cotton, which recently won the Bancroft Prize.

I want to spend some more time considering broad frameworks (flows, networks, exchange) that might allow for a Pacific– and globally oriented American religious history. One way to get at these issues, and to focus and organize our inquiries, is to think about particular themes and topics. Which subjects might provide us lenses into broad histories that bridge subfields? Capitalism, empire, environment, and the more specific topics associated with them all provide fruitful lenses. Here, working with an “exchange” model, I’ll sketch broadly how an interdisciplinary Pacific history might be told through a particular type of exchange: sex.

Are the Culture Wars History?: A Conversation with Andrew Hartman

The following is an interview with Andrew Hartman, author of the new book, A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (Chicago, April 2015).  You may also be interested in Hartman's recent talk with The Boston Globe.  Hartman is the founding President of the Society for U. S. Intellectual History (S-USIH) and a regular blogger there.  He is also chair of S-USIH’s upcoming conference in Washington DC in October.

1. You mention in your Acknowledgements that Leo Ribuffo gave you the topic for this book.  Could you say more about how and why it came about?

After one of Professor Ribuffo’s seminars that I took in graduate school, Leo offhandedly suggested that I should write my dissertation on the battles over education during the 1950s. A few years later I had a dissertation, which he directed, and a few years after that I had my first book, Education and the Cold War. Leo seems to have a knack for knowing how to match my interests to the gaps in the literature. So in 2008, just as my first book had come out, Leo once again offhandedly suggested in an email that perhaps my second book should be a history of the culture wars of the 1980s and 1990s. He knew then, and I soon discovered, that no historian had ever written a monograph about the culture wars. And the topic really did match my interests since it allowed me to explore education, politics, and culture—all through the lens of intellectual history.

But Leo suggesting that I write a history of the culture wars was also deeply ironic, because he doesn’t think that historians should take the “culture wars” label seriously. He always prefaces the “so-called culture wars.” He thinks it’s hyperbolic and that Americans have always had shouting matches related to the national identity.

Ask the Southern Baptist Convention and Robert Dale Owen? Or advice on the best age for marriage

Carol Faulkner

Last month, a NPR story about the Southern Baptist Convention's "soft push" for early marriages caught my attention. My mother always told me not to marry until age 30, which says a lot about her political and philosophical differences from leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. When I reached that age as a single woman, however, she began to get nervous. Still, my mother was on to something. Studies show that college-educated women who delay marriage do better financially than women who marry at a younger age. The Southern Baptist Convention's new campaign grows from their awareness of the rising marriage age (as of 2011, the average age of marriage for women was 26.5 years, for men, 28.7), as well as the denomination's interest in discouraging premarital sex. The NPR story quotes Andrew Walker, who leads SBC efforts on early marriages, explaining the rationale: "The reality is, starting at the age of 12, 13, boys and men, growing up into maturity, are hardwired for something that God gave us a desire for and an outlet for.... And so to suppress that becomes more difficult the older you get." Though there is a lot to say about this quote, I will focus on how it echoes the marriage advice of antebellum reformers. Aside from shared disapproval of premarital sex, these reformers had little in common with antebellum or modern evangelicals. Their advice on the appropriate age of marriage reveals their contradictory attempts to address sexual inequality in nineteenth-century America.

Robert Dale Owen

Perhaps the best-known of these nineteenth-century writers was socialist (and later spiritualist) Robert Dale Owen, whose book Moral Physiology famously promoted the use of birth control among married couples.*  Owen shared Malthus's concern with population growth, but he also believed contraception enabled couples to achieve economic stability and, more importantly, personal happiness. Owen posited that, "the families of the married often increase beyond what a regard for the young beings coming into existence or the happiness of those who give them birth, would dictate." He wrote in opposition to "orthodox" clergy who advocated later marriages as a means of birth control. Instead, Owen argued that early marriages would solve a number of social problems, including onanism (masturbation), seduction, and prostitution, because "all men will marry while young" if they had the ability to limit their children. Owen saw sexual fulfillment as essential to marriage. In his view, early marriages, when combined with birth control, would be "salutory, moral, and civilizing" for both men and women.

"A more catholic American Catholic Historical Association," Part II: Recapping the Spring Meeting of the ACHA

[This month Cushwa welcomes Michael Skaggs (@maskaggs), who is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Notre Dame, to recap the recent ACHA Spring Meeting.]

Michael Skaggs
From March 26 to March 28, the University of Notre Dame hosted the American Catholic Historical Association’s 2015 Spring Meeting. The 2015 Spring Meeting was, to judge from the feedback of presenters and attendees, a great success. Just a few minutes spent mingling during the crucial coffee breaks between panels revealed an abundance of new connections, happy reunions, and fruitful discussion among conferees. In terms of both topic and timeframe, the meeting covered an extraordinary amount of ground. Junior scholars (yours truly included) greatly benefited from the feedback, critique, and support of experienced colleagues, proving that the ACHA is making great efforts to foster the next generation of scholarship. I’m grateful for Peter Cajka's preliminary report from April 5 on the Catholics in the American Century roundtable. Because Peter covered that highlight of the conference so well, I’ll offer only a few words, as a non-participant, on that panel below. I’ll conclude by offering a few thoughts on whether we succeeded in answering Peter’s call to become “more catholic” in our scholarship.

New Books Alert: 2015 Year in Preview, Part Two (May-August)

Paul Putz

Back in January I posted a preview list of new books within the field of American religious history. That list only included books set to be released between January and April. As promised, here is the second part, featuring the May-to-August books. Once again I've included about 50 titles, and that doesn't even include LSU Press's "updated edition" of Ed Blum's Reforging the White Repblic, set for publication in June. (Congrats, Ed!)

A couple quick points to make before we get to the list. First, I've listed the books in roughly chronological order based on the month of their release date. Second, although I've tried to include as many relevant and interesting titles as I could find, I'm sure that I left out some deserving books. Please use the comments to add to this list, and I can update the post as needed. Third, to add a little color to this post, here are six of the books that I am most interested in reading (I'd include Heath Carter's Union Made on this list, but alas, I could not find an image of the book cover)

*Update: the book cover for Heath Carter's Union Made has been made available! Check it out:

*Update: just added Heather White's Reforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights (North Carolina, August). I'm not sure how I missed this book the first time around. I suppose this is why we crowdsource!

ASCH: Suddenly Single?

Elesha Coffman

The American Society of Church History has been holding its annual meeting in conjunction with the American Historical Association since at least 1909. Owing to changes in the way AHA relates to its affiliated societies, however, the two groups could part ways in future years. Readers of this blog who attended the meeting in New York City in January likely noticed some differences in the registration procedure and may have heard chatter about an impending split following the Sunday night business meeting. As a member of the ASCH council, I would really like to hear from you all regarding what you think we should do--or, more specifically at this stage, what questions we should ask, and of whom, as the ASCH enters the process of making a decision.

To outline the situation very briefly: Recent policy changes by the AHA will make it more expensive for members of affiliated societies (including ASCH, ACHA, and all of the others listed here) to attend the AHA annual meeting while also giving affiliated societies less control over their portions of the meeting--how many paper sessions they have, where those sessions meet, what kind of displays the societies can set up, and so forth. These changes seem to leave ASCH three basic options: (1) to keep meeting with AHA, though under less congenial terms; (2) to affiliate with a different scholarly society (or societies); or (3) to go it alone and plan its own, separate annual meeting, analogous to though larger than the current ASCH spring meeting.

A survey laying out these options in detail and inviting feedback from constituents will be available later this year. I'm helping draft the survey, and there are some things I want to think more about--and hear from more people about--to try to make sure we get the most useful information from all of the people with a stake in the ASCH's next move. So here are some of my big questions:

Guaranteed Pure: A Conversation with Tim Gloege

Heath Carter

I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Tim Gloege regarding his important new book, Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism (UNC Press), which led us into some larger questions having to do with the histories of evangelicalism, fundamentalism, and capitalism in the United States.  The book is available now and qualifies as a must read.  

HC: For those who haven't read the book yet, can you offer a sneak preview of some of the ways in which you argue the Moody Bible Institute and Business contributed to the Making of Modern Evangelicalism?  

TG: Yes, absolutely, and thanks for this opportunity to talk about the book, Heath. 

Guaranteed Pure tells the story of a group of businessmen, ministers, and evangelists that developed a particular strain of evangelicalism—what I call “corporate evangelicalism”—during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The center of gravity of this network was the Moody Bible Institute (MBI), founded in Chicago in 1889 by the salesman-turned-revivalist Dwight L. Moody. The story begins in the 1870s when Moody stood at the center of a dynamic, if unstable, network of self-described “Christian workers” committed to evangelizing the urban “masses.” It traces the failure of that project and MBI’s transition, after Moody’s death, to a new focus on influencing middle-class Protestantism. Under a new regime, headed by the promotional genius and president of Quaker Oats, Henry Crowell, they battled liberal theology and modified its evangelical message to insure it was safe and attractive to the “respectable” middle classes. During the 1910s and early 1920s, MBI became a virtual headquarters for an emerging fundamentalist movement. 

The book traces a number of ways that MBI and business contributed to the making of modern evangelicalism, but I’ll highlight three. First, it brokered a set of connections between evangelicalism and a new set of economic identities, assumptions, and techniques. It began with Moody’s construct of a “Christian worker.” This constituted a new religious identity for laypeople, based on new realities of industrial work and especially the desires of elite businessmen for submissive employees who worked hard. This identity in turn influenced their interpretation of holy writ. The Bible became analogous to a work contract—filled with promises and requirements for God’s employees. Under Crowell, MBI shifted the primary identity from Christian worker to savvy consumer. What God required of faithful believers, they taught, was to choose and consume “pure religion.” 

But perhaps more important were the bedrock assumptions that underlay both these economic identities and their religious analogs. It was a vision of the world in which society consisted primarily of individuals constructing identities by making rational choices. Thus, it was not coincidental that modern conservative evangelicalism developed contemporaneously with modern consumer capitalism; they share a similar ideological foundation (one, interestingly, that is often at odds with the findings of modern post-Darwinian science). 

First Baptist, Depreston: Megachurches and Making Suburbia

Charity R. Carney

Strip malls. Chain restaurants. Gated communities. Starbucks… So many Starbucks. And megachurches. One of the main features of today’s suburban landscape is the megachurch. Megas offer entertaining services, architecture that mimics the surrounding material environment, and a sense of community that seems to fit the suburban lifestyle. For sprawling suburbs many megachurches have even built satellite campuses so that the Sunday commute isn’t too burdensome. Large, seeker-sensitive churches (some preaching prosperity) seem to do particularly well in the suburbs, which have provided homes for more than 75% of megas in United States since the late-1980s.1 The suburbs have contributed to the evolution of modern American evangelicalism’s rituals, doctrines, material culture, community structures. While we can still lament the rise of pre-fab houses and “Californian bungalows in cul-de-sacs” (see Courtney Barnett’s brilliant new homage to the suburbs, Depreston), it is important to recognize the diversity of suburbia and the ways that it has affected religion and religious practices.

The Short, Secret Life of Academic Articles

Laura Arnold Leibman

In How We Think: Digital Media and Contemporary Technogenesis, Katherine Hayles notes the "shockingly small rate at which [academic] articles are cited (and presumably read)."  The news is bleak enough for the sciences, in which 22.4% of all articles aren't cited even once within the first five years, but that unfortunate statistic pales compared to humanities articles, 93.1% of which fail to be cited even once five years after they appear in print.  Regardless of the greater prestige given to books in our field, this is dismal news (Hayles 3-4).  The story gets incrementally worse for those us not in the social sciences.  As David Hamilton points out, "Within the arts and humanities (where admittedly citation is not so firmly entrenched), uncitedness figures hit the ceiling. Consider, for example, theater (99.9%), American literature (99.8%), architecture (99.6%), and religion (98.2%)" (Hamilton 1991, 25).  Certainly things may have improved for the better since Hamilton's article appeared due to the rise of electronic databases like JSTOR and Project MUSE and the willingness of people to place offprints online on and Research Gate. Even so, given the amount of time and affection many of us put into writing academic articles, these statistics are more than a little depressing. 

In some ways these paltry statistics belie my own experience: articles often influence my own thinking the most.  Are there things we could (or should) be doing to make academic articles more visible in the circuit of ideas?  Like most scholars, I focus my published reviews of other scholars' work on their books; hence I'd like to dedicate this post to a few articles that either I return to again and again, or (if the articles are recent) I expect to return to repeatedly in the future.  I hope this list will not only lead others to these gems, but also encourage readers to present their own lists of favorite article in the comments or to review articles in future posts on RiAH.

Here is my current Top Five:

Grant Announcement: The Historical Society of The Episcopal Church

Michael Utzinger

The Historical Society of the Episcopal Church invites applications from individual scholars and academic and ecclesiastical groups for grants to support significant research, conferences, and publications relating to the history of the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, and Anglican and Episcopal churches in North America.

Grants are usually modest, generally $1,000-$2,000, though more or less may be awarded depending on number of awards and amount of funds available in any year. Typical grants include travel to archives, collections or resources, dissertation research, and seed money for larger projects.

The deadline for submission is May 1, 2015.

Applications must include:

  1. A statement of the subject and purpose of the project of no more than 500 words;
  2. A bibliography or reference list of the project, no more than a single page;
  3. A concise curriculum vitae;
  4. A projected total budget for the project and specific amount requested (with detail of how it will be used).  If less than the total budget, it must be made clear how a grant would help and what other resources are available or being pursued;
  5. At least two letters of recommendation or support (in the case of a graduate student, we expect one will be from the project's main supervising professor);
  6. A sample of recent scholarly writing (an article, essay, or chapter of no more than ten pages).

To submit an application, send an email with all materials attached (PDF preferred) to If total file size is over 5MB, you may send the files as separate emails. If one file is over 5MB, contact the Director of Operations ( for directions on how to submit.

Grant recipients are announced in July. It is expected recipients will make an appropriate submission to Anglican and Episcopal History.

A list of previous grantees can be found on the Society's webpage:

Divided by Faith, or Ambivalent Miracles? (Or Both).

Paul Harvey

Recently I wrote a thing on an excellent new book by Nancy Wadsworth,Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing. This work continues the ongoing discussion initiated by the important work Divided by Faith. Below is the beginning portion of my thoughts, and just click on the link at the bottom to follow the rest. Last year, by the way, our contributor Karen Johnson interviewed the author in a two-part series; you can find that here and here. (Note: a brand new piece for The Atlantic explores similar themes on evangelicals and racial politics, focusing particularly on Southern Baptists. Thoughtful piece and well worth reading for those interested).
Ambivalent Miracles

Nancy D. Wadsworth, Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing, University of Virginia Press, 2014, 319pp., $39.95 Nancy Wadsworth’s stimulating new work on the politics of racial healing came to my attention just as news about national protests stemming from the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in New York took center stage in national news broadcasts. Social media buzzed with various reactions to the unprosecuted killings of unarmed black men, including numerous comments made by professional athletes. Just before a Monday night football game — and right after the announcement of the grand jury’s decision in the Ferguson case — a tight end for the New Orleans Saints, Benjamin Watson, weighed in on Twitter: “So many thoughts on#Ferguson. My heart is full and I don’t know where to start. Lord help us. All of us. Black & White. Anger Fear Despair.” He then immediately followed up with a multifaceted facebook post which communicated his anger and frustration over the killings, connected them to experiences of African Americans through generations of American history, condemned violent responses to the grand jury decision in Ferguson, expressed empathy for police officers making split-second decisions, and looked for hope in the gospel of Christ. Watson’s words leapt to mind while I was reading Nancy D. Wadsworth’s Ambivalent Miracles: Evangelicals and the Politics of Racial Healing A key section of that post almost perfectly captures the ambivalence of the subtitle of Wadsworth’s book:

Continue Reading Here

American Religion and the New Materialism


Sonia Hazard

What’s so new about new materialism? New materialism is more than a buzzword or this Tuesday’s theoretical vogue. It’s a reconceptualization of material things—chairs, altars, books, robes, neurons—and how these chunks of matter move us, speak to us, and make incessant demands on our thought and practice. What is new about new materialism is its argument that things are agents, in their own rights, with trajectories, propensities, or tendencies of their own.” This is not a playful statement. Things and their powers are serious business.

For this year’s American Academy of Religion in Atlanta (November 21-24), I’ve been involved (with the indefatigable Karen Bray) in organizing a panel on new materialism in religion, called “Between Philosophy and a Phenomenological Hard Place: New Materialism as a Methodology in the Study of Religion.” It’s co-hosted by the Philosophy of Religion Section and the Theology and Continental Philosophy Group. American religionists will find much of interest in the panel: the point is to convey an expansive sense of what new materialism—not only as a philosophy but also as a method—can do throughout the various subfields in the study of religion, including American religion. The panel is designed not only for thing devotees but also the thing-curious.

I will open the session by offering a lively introduction to new materialism, drawn from an essay in Religion and Society. I’ll describe its stakes and its relation to more common approaches to materiality in the study of religion. Even in religious material culture studies, the generative power of things receives short shrift. Things tend to be regarded either as secondary symbols of human culture, or as the background against which human subjects conduct their activities.

Three panelists, each representing different subfields in religious studies, will offer remarks that enact the first panelist’s methodological provocation in concrete, case-based ways that speak to the concerns of their subfields. Hillary Kaell will be the first to engage new materialism’s methodological provocation in her ethnographic work on wayside crosses in Quebec. Her remarks are titled, “Seeing the Invisible: Ambient Catholicism on the Side of the Road.” Karen Bray, a philosophical theologian, will follow her, with a paper on “Material Laments: Things that Pray and Temples that Feel.” Then, Peter Anthony Mena, a historian of late antique religion, will offer a reading of Origen in his called “Noetic Bodies: Origen of Alexandria, the New Materialist.” Whitney Bauman will respond and John Modern will chair.

American religion will be very much a part of this conversation, both at the American Academy of Religion meeting and in new materialist scholarship in the future. It is our hope that the panel’s multidisciplinary approach will inspire in a diverse audience an excitement around these new theoretical and methodological tools, and embolden them to put such ideas into practice concretely. No doubt, there also will be vigorous debate.

Comparing the First Gilded Age to the Second Gilded Age

Janine Giordano Drake

How does the present-day climate of organizing around wealth inequality compare to that of the Gilded Age? According to Steve Fraser in his new The Age of Acquiescence, it does not even light a candle.

According to Fraser, while the first Gilded Age was full of militant workers who did not give up in the face of Pinkertons, labor injunctions and a legal system that benefited the upper-class, the present age has acquiesced. While the first Gilded Age boasted of popular writers like Henry Demarest Lloyd, Edward Bellamy, and Henry George, each of whom gave the working classes a language to analyze and protest wealth inequality and the ways it destroys the fabric of American democracy, the present day fetishizes businessmen as populist heroes. While the first Gilded Age honored working class clergy-heroes, like Edward McGlynn, and made room for Eugene Debs' claims that socialism was a Christian idea, the religious leaders of the present Gilded Age overwhelmingly promote the status quo.

Fraser's overarching thesis may or may not be overstated. As popular reviewers like Naomi Klein and Jon Wiener remind us, Fraser does not see the Black Freedom Movement nor the Women's Liberation Movement, nor the numerous grassroots movements which have persisted and grown since then, impacting the social consciousness of the mainstream with regards to wealth inequality. For, they ran alongside an era that glorified business leaders and oppressed discussions on wealth distribution and radical social equality. Fraser is probably shortsighted in his assumption that rules governing the workplace (rather than the point of consumption or reproduction) are the best ways to trace interest in topping wealth and social inequality.

Yet, Fraser also has a point that the success of these 1960s movements has not significantly transformed the production or distribution of American wealth. For, as Fraser expertly shows, in spite of the success of these movements, the "Second Gilded Age" has glorified the worker as a "free agent," allowed the destruction of the labor movement and the laws workers built to defend unions, and enabled the phenomenon of "limousine liberalism." Sure, there are present-day groups organizing in response to wealth-inequality. But, compared to the thousands of workers who went on strike for months and months, even in the face of Pinkertons and labor injunctions and real poverty, we have acquiesced. His point is that the obstacles workers faced in the late nineteenth century were every bit as bad, and worse, than they are in the early twenty-first century. Yet, the first era saw massive protest, and the second has not. This point is compelling.

Interview with Jodi Eichler-Levine, Author of Suffer the Little Children

Samira K. Mehta

Jodi Eichler-Levine. Suffer the Little Children: Uses of the Past in Jewish and African American Children's Literature. (New York: New York University Press, 2015) 

Tomorrow, NYU Press will re-release Jodi Eichler-Levine's Suffer the Little Children, a fabulous 2013 book that will now
be available in paperback!

SKM: As I read Suffer the Little Children, I was really struck by your use of language, in two senses. First, your word choice was elegant and even playful. I love how you referred to chosenness as as a “‘wild thing’ in its own right.” Given that you were writing about literature, did you feel a particular imperative to polish your own prose?

JEL: Yes. Writing about literature did make me want to bring forth my best prose, which emerged dialogically with the authors I was studying. There’s a quote from Mikhail Bakhtin about how we always come upon language as “already inhabited”-- I actually use it in my acknowledgements. It has stuck with me because I feel it deeply when I write. So, Sendak’s Wild Things and abundant language; Julius Lester’s poetic magical realism; Virginia Hamilton’s idiomatic use of African American folklore… all of these were planted in my head and sprouted out into the book. Finally, while playfulness is not unique to children’s literature, I think engaging with that genre brought a bit more jouissance to my work.

SKM: Also, on the subject of wording, you have a note about the challenges of using language of race and ethnicity throughout your text, particularly given internally diverse and historically shifting naming practices. Could you say a bit about the challenges of choosing terms as you talk about both African American and Jewish American experience?

JEL: It’s probably evident in that note that I am deeply ambivalent about this challenge. It’s one that I am still figuring out. One of my solutions is to try to borrow tricks from German: throw as many words together as you can at once, but with spaces in between them to be grammatically correct; hence: “Jewish and African Americans.” I tried to give those two adjectives the freedom to modify “Americans” on their own or together. I also use also “ethno-religious” at some points because those concepts are so very entangled. I’m deeply aware of the power of naming and not so comfortable with that power. I also am an “insider” to Jewish Americans, but not anyone in the African diaspora … but worry that the term “Jewish American,” too, gets coded as “Ashkenazi”. 

Frederick Douglass, William Jay, Abolition, and Christianity in Antebellum America

Jonathan Den Hartog

With the on-going interest in Frederick Douglass (his Narrative made it to the Junto's 2015 Primary Source Documents Final Four! David Blight is writing a major biography of him!), I found Douglass making some very interesting comments in a much lesser-known work than his Narrative. In May 1859, Douglass addressed a primarily African-American audience at Shiloh Presbyterian Church to deliver a "Eulogy of the Late William Jay" (available via GoogleBooks). 

Douglass had much to praise about Jay. He opened by stating that "In the death of WILLIAM JAY, the cause of Emancipation in the United States has lost one of its ablest and most effective advocates." Douglass suggested that Jay would be ranked alongside "the venerated names of WILLIAM WILBERFORCE, THOMAS CLARKSON, and GRANVILLE SHARPE," the leading British abolitionists. The only difference was that Wilberforce, Clarkson, and Sharpe had lived to see the fulfillment of their abolitionist cause and Jay had not. Nonetheless, Jay's character and work merited honor. "All that is commanded in virtue--all that is exalted and sublime in piety--all that is disinterested in patriotism--all that is noble in philanthropy...stand out gloriously in the life of William Jay."

Douglass praised Jay's contribution as a writer supporting abolition. In "Letters, essays, pamphlets, books, newspaper articles" Jay advocated for abolition. "The pen was the weapon of his choice, and the weapon of his power." Further, Jay's contributions were timely. "Mr. JAY...wrote precisely at the right time. No great occasion escaped him. He was ready for every emergency." In the constellation of abolitionist efforts, Jay's great efforts were devoted to using the moral suasion of the word to convince others of the evil of slavery.

Douglass also made much of Jay's early commitment to abolition. A leader, rather than a band-wagon joiner, Jay "was not behind the chiefest apostle of immediate emancipation." Further "impartial history" would give Jay "the credit of having affirmed all the leading principles of modern Abolitionism long before modern Abolitionism was recognized as a reformatory movement." Jay's commitment to abolition dated long before it was a large or popular phenomenon in the North. He was working for the cause when there were few laborers alongside him.

Douglass's eulogy mentioned two other important components of Jay's involvement in abolition. One was that Jay was part of a line of anti-slavery advocates. This began with his father John Jay, who as governor had signed into law New York's gradual emancipation act. It continued with William's son John, who as an active lawyer had dedicated himself to opposing slavery through legal means. On this point, Douglass exclaimed, "Abolitionism seems hereditary in the family!"

The other point was William's care for fugitive slaves. Not only concerned about them in life, in his will he had left $1,000 for promoting the "safety and comfort of fugitive slaves," many of whom passed through New York.

Reading "Catholics in the American Century" at the ACHA

Today's guest post from Peter Cajka recaps a panel held at the recent spring meeting of the American Catholic Historical Association. Peter is a PhD candidate at Boston College where he works on religion in modern American history. He is currently writing a dissertation that explores how and why ideas of conscience became central in American Democracy and Christian ethics between 1961 and 1985. A full report of the conference will follow in a few weeks, to be posted by Notre Dame PhD student Michael Skaggs.

Peter Cajka

In response to a call for more book panels and historiography at its conferences, the American Catholic Historical Association convened a session on Catholics in the American Century: Recasting Narratives of U.S. History. The book features essays by Robert Orsi, Lizabeth Cohen, Thomas Sugrue, R. Marie Griffith, David G. Gutierrez, and Wilfred McClay. It’s the product of a conference convened in 2008 by the Cushwa Center of the University of Notre Dame. Cushwa asked historians who normally write about other topics (labor, cities, Protestant women, the nineteenth century self, ethnicity) to write essays on American Catholicism. The general goal of the volume is to present a case for why studying Catholics will help us to understand American History more deeply. A second goal of the volume is to make a few suggestions about how this task might be accomplished. In this blog post I offer two quick snapshots from the collection itself before summarizing points made at the panel.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part II), featuring a bibliography

Charles McCrary
Continued from part I

Pacific history, particularly done from an American and/or European perspective, has a different history and historiography. These histories are situated in a long tradition of Western knowledge production about the Pacific, and are generally quite conscious of this fact. For over two hundred years, Americans and Europeans have used the Pacific as a site of knowledge production, including botanical, geological, mineralogical, zoological, and of course anthropological knowledge. These encounters have determined the shape of many narratives of Pacific history. British and French
Louis-Antoine de Bougainville
histories of adventurers like James Cook and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville were popular in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. These histories traded on familiar tropes of New World exploration, but often with variations on those themes. Pacific Islanders in these histories were often depicted as savage cannibals. Of course, some Islanders did in fact practice cannibalism, though it was almost always practiced against conquered tribes or opposing kingdoms. An American whaler, for example, would have little chance of being eaten. Islanders were exoticized as savages, but Europeans and Americans were also celebratory of the “natural beauty” of the islands and Islanders. Naturalness cuts both ways. In light of these issues and others, questions about how to frame these interactions, and who—or what—are the subjects of Pacific history remain difficult and central.

There are multiple venues for Pacific history. Here I will give an overview of a few, and at the end of the post I’ll provide a brief bibliography. My intended audience here is American historians who are largely unfamiliar with Pacific history but would like a short guide for where to look if they would like to incorporate it into their research and/or teaching.

Pacific Studies: A Brief Introduction (Part 1)

Charles McCrary

This is part two of a series on the Pacific Ocean and part one and a two-part post providing a short historiographical overview of "Pacific studies" and "Pacific history."

Jean-Pierre Norblin de La Gourdaine, after Louis Choris, "Temple du Roi dans la baie Tiritatéa" (1822)

In the first post in this series, I asked about the place of the Pacific in American religious history, how historians of American religions might better incorporate the Pacific into our existing narratives and frameworks, and, if we were more conversant in Pacific history, how our larger narratives might change. Today and tomorrow, I want to back up a little bit and provide a short introduction to the Pacific studies/history. I studied 18th– and 19th–century Pacific history for a comprehensive exam last year. In my reading I focused largely on exchange among Europeans, Americans, and Pacific Islanders, so my posts will be geared toward those topics. Others, especially those with expertise in the twentieth century, East Asia, and/or the Philippines, should make suggestions in the comments. Today’s post focuses on “Pacific studies” and the Tomorrow I will take up historical work on the Pacific, done by historians working in the United States, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Island nations.

First, of course, we have a thorny definitional question: What is “the Pacific”? Much work under the labels “Pacific studies” and “Pacific history” focus on the islands of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia, although there are scholars who contest these categories. The divisions between Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia, probably first made by Jules Durmont d’Urville in 1832, relied on essentially racial categories. Some scholars have defined the Pacific as a geological feature or ecological system, the “tide-beating heart of earth.” Islanders were mobile for many centuries before Europeans ever arrived, so determining how people got where they did is a difficult task for anthropologists. If the study of the Pacific is a study of Islanders, then there are many outstanding questions about classification and categorization, and many of the data needed to make these claims are beyond the realm of traditional historical study.

CFP: Still Guests in Our Own House? Women and the Church since Vatican II

Monica L. Mercado

From Loyola University Chicago's Michelle Nickerson, comes the following CFP, with a deadline of June 1, 2015.

Still Guests in Our Own House? 
Women and the Church since Vatican II 
November 6 - November 7, 2015 
Loyola University Chicago 


  • What has and has not changed for women in the Church since the Second Vatican Council?  
  • What positions do women have and what roles do they play in the Church today? 
  • What is the future for women in the Church? 
  • What should be the agenda of engagement for the next half century? 
In Fall 2015, Loyola University Chicago will mark the fiftieth anniversary of the conclusion of Vatican II with a public symposium. 

Women's lives across the globe have changed dramatically since the Council, and these changes have had a powerful effect in the Church as well. Women have taken on new roles, challenged traditional teachings, and raised new questions. What role did and does the Council play in this complex development?

At "Still Guests in Our Own House," scholars will address the issues raised by these questions. Please join us in what promises to be a lively exploration of the Council's history and impact on women by proposing a paper, panel, or roundtable. 

Keynote: M. Shawn Copeland, Professor, Department of Theology, Boston College 

Responder: Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Associate Professor, American Studies, and Director, Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism 

We invite interested scholars to submit a 100-200 word proposal for a panel, roundtable or paper by June 1, 2015 to A decision will be conveyed by June 15, 2015. 

The Symposium is sponsored by the Carolyn Farrell, BVM, Professorship in Women and Leadership, the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, the Department of Theology, the John Cardinal Cody Chair in Theology, the Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Life, the Catholic Studies Program, and the Department of History. It is free and open to the public. For more information, see

Christian Nation, Christian Libertarianism


by Lincoln Mullen

Kruse, Kevin M. One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

One Nation Under God, Kevin Kruse’s new book on How Corporate America Invented Christian America, is a fascinating narrative of the connections between religion, big business, and patriotism and governance in the United States from the New Deal to Ronald Reagan. The book is justly receiving praise and widespread attention, including several reviews here at Religion in American History (by Michael Graziano and Darren Grem) and coverage in the New York Times and on NPR. Since there are a number of reviews or summaries of the book available, I am going to take for granted that you know the basic shape of the book. In this review I intend to cast the book’s argument into relief from the perspective of nineteenth-century American religious history in order to highlight the contribution that the book makes.

One Nation Under God is a history of how the idea that the United States is a Christian nation was deployed in the middle of the twentieth century. There were several possible historical moments when this idea could have arisen. One is during the revolutionary period: Kruse deftly “sets aside the question of whether the founders intended America to be a Christian nation and instead asks why so many contemporary Americans came to believe this country has been and always should be a Christian nation” (xiii). Another contender is the Cold War period. This book takes the Cold War into account, to be sure, but it offers an important corrective by tracing the idea of “one nation under God” to business opposition to the New Deal in 1930s and 1940s. As Kruse writes about the addition of that phrase to the pledge of allegiance, the change was “the result of nearly two decades of partisan fighting over domestic issues. The Cold War contrasts were largely a last-minute development, one that helped paper over partisan differences” (109). But there is a third contender for the origins of the Christian nation idea: the nineteenth-century United States. This critical period for understanding church-state concerns has been re-examined in recent years by scholars such as Sarah Barringer Gordon, Steven K. Green, and David Sehat.

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